Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ramadan Moon

In a few days time Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, will start. In 2009 it is thought to start around Sunday 23rd August.  It started on Saturday 22nd August.

To determine the official beginning and end of Ramadan in the Gulf States, a moon sighting committee composed of Sunni religious men sits in Jeddah, on the east coast of Saudi Arabia.

The committe meets each evening and waits for the moon's appearance, as well as receiving moon sighting messages. Consequently, no one is quite sure of the exact starting date of Ramadan and in reality it only starts when the committee is convinced the moon has been sighted.

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In the Middle East the moon sits at a different angle to that seen in Europe, America and Australia; here the moon lays as if being cradled. On the first day of Ramadan the moon can only be seen at dusk, very low in the sky for a maximum of five minutes.

Image taken from:

Notices that Ramadan or Eid has started are put in the newspapers and announcements are made on the radio, but most people will find out Ramadan has started through a phone call from one of their family members, a work colleague, or a friend.

The entire Gulf workforce follows the committee's directive and working hours change. Offically Muslims work just six hours a day during Ramadan (two less than normal).

However, at home Shi'ites/Shias will start and end Ramadan one day later than the Sunni decrees.

Ramadan is an obligation, or one of the five pillars of Islam {see wgaw blog archive: 5 pillars of Islam} and all Muslims are expected to fast [sigh-yim].

Fasting in reality means nothing is passed between the lips between sunrise and sunset for one lunar month each year, except for those travelling, the sick, those who have not yet reached puberty and all menstrating women.  In addition, sexual acts should not take place between sunrise and sunset.  For each day's missed fasting Muslims are expected to 'pay back' before the next Ramadan starts.

Fasting is said to teach patience, humility and an understanding of what it is like to be poor and hungry.

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